Studies Suggest People With More Money May Be Less Compassionate

“There is some magic in wealth, which can thus make persons pay their court to it, when it does not even benefit themselves. How strange it is, that a fool or knave, with riches, should be treated with more respect by the world, than a good man, or a wise man in poverty!” ~ Ann Radcliffe

Money. They say it is the root of all evil, that it disconnects people from reality, skews our view of ourselves, our relationships and the cultures we live in — not to mention those we don’t. But is this true? How much factual evidence is there to support these ideas? Money itself is a neutral energy, and without it, one is not free to do much of anything in our world. So does the acquisition of wealth really have an adverse effect on our psychology? According to one researcher, it does. {WP}

University of California, Berkeley‘s Paul Piff led a series of studies, which shows an apparent link between wealth and a person’s behavioral choices. The studies are of timely importance, since the economic inequality in the United States is as high as it’s been in almost a century. Some of his findings included:

  • A study where participants were placed in front of a bowl of candy while they waited and told that “There’s candy there. It’s actually for children for another study, but you’re welcome to take a few pieces if you want to” found that wealthier participants took two times as much candy from children as did poor participants.
  • Another experiment tested honesty in reporting dice scores when cash was on the line. What they found was that “people all the way at the top who made $150,000 dollars, $200,000 dollars a year were actually cheating four times as much as someone all the way at the bottom who made under $15,000 dollars a year just to win credits for a $50 dollars cash prize.
  • In a rigged Monopoly game experiment, where one player is deemed the “rich participant” and given considerable advantages, so much so that it would be impossible for them to lose, the results showed that the rich participants still felt like they were entitled to win. They attributed their success to themselves, even though it’s a coin flip that got them on this side of the board as opposed to that.

All these studies lend incredible insight into what the mind does to make sense of advantage or disadvantage. Most importantly, that “those with money start to attribute success to your own individual skills and talents, becoming less attuned to all of the other things that contributed to you being in the position that you’re in.”

Piff and his boss, Professor Dacher Keltnert, believe that these behavioral differences could conceivably help people understand their subconscious biases and perhaps even moderate the costly effects of economic inequality.

Source: This post was taken in part from the article “Monday Musings: Money & Generosity” by Kïrsten Blake, as originally featured on her website, where she posts “interviews and daily inspiration from those who are charting their own journeys to have a career and life doing what they love.” It is shared here with permission. If you are interested in looking into the research further, you can find out more at Paul or Dacher‘s websites.

Image: Darin House